When you make the decision to start a workout program, you can be faced with several challenges. In our busy schedules with work and caring for our families, making the time to exercise, creating a balanced routine and setting your goals are additional challenges we all face. Now add to this the muscle soreness you get when adapting to your new regimen and it may be difficult to stay on task. I bet you won’t be jumping out of bed the next morning to go to the gym to continue your fitness regimen when it’s difficult to lift your arm to brush your teeth or comb your hair. Or try to bend down to put on socks or pantyhose–the pain can be intense.
Experts tell us that after undergoing any type of strenuous physical activity, especially something new to your body, it is not uncommon for us to experience muscle soreness. It is most likely to occur after the beginning stages of a workout program. “Muscles go through quite a bit of physical stress when we exercise,” says Rick Sharp, professor of exercise physiology at Iowa State University in Ames.
“Mild soreness just a natural outcome of any kind of physical activity,” he says. “And they’re most prevalent in beginning stages of a program.” Doctors, Exercise Physiologists and Trainers call this kind of muscle pain, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
What Causes Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?
DOMS occurs hours after the exercise is over. This is much different than the acute pain of a pulled or strained muscle. A muscle tear, is felt as an abrupt, sudden, acute pain that occurs during activity, that is often accompanied by swelling or bruises. DOMS is thought to be a result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercise and what type of exercise you do. Activities that require muscles to forcefully contract while they are lengthening, (eccentric contractions), seem to cause the most soreness. You use eccentric contractions when you descend stairs, run downhill, lower a weight, or perform the downward motion of squats and push-ups. In addition to muscle tearing, swelling can occur in and around a muscle, which can also cause soreness hours later.
What is the Treatment for DOMS?
There is no one simple way to treat delayed onset muscle soreness. In fact, there has been an ongoing debate about both the cause and treatment of DOMS. In the past, gentle stretching was one of the recommended ways to reduce exercise related muscle soreness, but a study by Australian researchers published in 2007 found that stretching is not effective in avoiding muscle soreness.
So does anything work to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness? Nothing is proven effective, but some people have found the following advice helpful, but it’s best for an individual to try a few things to see what works for them. Ultimately, best advice for treating DOMS is to prevent it in the first place.
Here are some tips for dealing with soreness after exercise:
- Wait. Soreness will go away in 3 to 7 days with no special treatment.
- Try an Ice Bath or Contrast Water Bath. Although no clear evidence proves they are effective, many pro athletes use them and claim they work to reduce soreness.
- Use active recovery techniques. This strategy does have some support in the research. Perform some easy low-impact aerobic exercise to increase blood flow. This may help diminish muscle soreness.
- Use the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) method of treating injuries.
- Although research doesn’t find gentle stretching reduces soreness, some people find it simply feels good.
- Gently massage the affected muscles. Some research has found that massage was effective in alleviating DOMS by approximately 30% and reducing swelling, but it had no effects on muscle function.
- Try using a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (aspirin or ibuprofen) to reduce the soreness temporarily, though they won’t actually speed healing.
- There is some evidence that performing Yoga may reduce DOMS.
- Avoid any vigorous activity that increases pain.
- Allow the soreness to subside thoroughly before performing any vigorous exercise.
- Don’t forget to warm up completely before your next exercise session. There is some research that supports that a warm-up performed immediately prior to unaccustomed eccentric exercise produces small reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness (but cool-down performed after exercise does not).
- ** If your pain persists longer than about 7 days or increases despite these measures, consult your physician.
- Learn something from the experience! Use prevention first.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – Prevention
While DOMS is common and annoying, it is not a necessary part of exercise. There are many things you can do to prevent, avoid and shorten the duration of DOMS:
- Warm up thoroughly before activity and cool down completely afterward.
- Cool Down with gentle stretching after exercise.
- Follow the Ten Percent Rule. When beginning a new activity start gradually and build up your time and intensity no more than ten percent per week.
- Hire a Personal Trainer if you aren’t sure how to start a workout program that is safe and effective.
- Start a new weight lifting routine with light weights and high reps (10-12) and gradually increase the amount you lift over several weeks.
- Avoid making sudden major changes in the type of exercise you do.
- Avoid making sudden major changes in the amount of time that you exercise.
Certain muscle pain or soreness can be a sign of a serious injury. If your muscle soreness does not get better within a week consult your physician.
What Else Can You Do to Prevent DOMS?
The proper supplements in your diet are also important in preventing DOMS. By providing the antioxidants, vitamins/minerals, essential fatty acids, phytonutrients and the biological sugars to your body before exercise, you can reduce or prevent DOMS from occurring.